Diversity and Social Media: Q & A
Sophia Agtarap's background in education and digital media helps her be a shepherd of sorts to digital immigrants. She enjoys working with diverse groups to help them better understand today's communication tools and uses for ministry and outreach. She is the new director of communication for Vanderbilt Divinity School at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee.
The Rev. Hannah Adair Bonner is curator of The Shout and author of the curriculum The Shout: Finding the Prophetic Voice in Unexpected Places (Abingdon Press). Through her work with The Shout, she labors to amplify "the cry" through a spoken-word poetry focused arts and justice community that is putting words into action.
How can United Methodists use social media to educate others about racial injustices throughout the world?
Sophia Agtarap: There are a number of United Methodist organizations, non-profits and NGOs (non-governmental organizations) who keep their audiences, congregations and constituents abreast of what's happening in their organization and the work they are doing. I encourage organizations to use social spaces to update people of current events, opportunities and (provide) real-time updates.
Sometimes we see our social media pages as spaces solely to promote our work, but so much of the social and racial justice work that we find ourselves a part of is intersectional. Part of the beauty of social media is that hierarchies are flattened and we are able to lift one another up and put a spotlight on what's happening beyond the four walls of our church and the boundaries of our geographic spaces. There is no harm done in sharing what our neighbors in similar organizations are doing – it does not diminish the work or ministry we are doing or promoting.
Hannah Bonner: The key with this is first to ask yourself if you are on the receiving end of that information already. Are you "tuned in" so to speak? If you are not, you may want to follow some people on social media that are. If you don't know where to start, you can follow me @HannahABonner – most of my activity on Twitter is amplifying people in all parts of the world who I am following by retweeting them. If you follow me or others who do that, you will start to see these missives and can amplify them yourself or share the information with your congregation. Once you are "tuned in," the next important step is to figure out how to share these things with others. Just as you can get the information by following someone on Twitter, someone who is not on Twitter may (hear) you bring it up in a pastoral prayer, announcement or small group.
How can United Methodists develop a community of those who are passionate about social and racial justice?
Agtarap: Social media is very visual. One way United Methodists can use social media to develop a community of those passionate about social justice is to tell stories. Give people a glimpse into the vision, mission and heart of whatever group or community you are trying to gather. A short 30-second video, a compelling photo or a story can make this work and ministry real. We sometimes miss the emotional connection that in-person relationships and gatherings can convey, so the question is how do we communicate the heart of what we're about when a screen is the medium? I always remind people that social media is social. Continue to find ways to connect online and off. Just because (a connection) starts online, it doesn't mean it has to end there.
Bonner: Joining groups that talk about the issues, following people on Twitter and commenting on their posts so that you create the opportunity to engage is a start. Then use the strength that you gain from seeing others working around the world to motivate yourself to work in your own community. If you started as the only person with your level of energy, commit to changing that. Make your discipleship a lifestyle and not just a hobby.
How can United Methodist churches help diverse communities to feel welcomed by the UM faith?
Agtarap: Again, I like to remind people that social media is a medium. It is a tool, not the end-goal. What we communicate on social – that we are welcoming and accepting and loving – we must also communicate offline in our actions and in our words. Social media will not save us if what we do online is not congruent with what we do offline. The photos we use in our posts, the words we write and the messages we share on video are all indicators of who we are. Find people to communicate those things who fully understand who you are as a community and who are sensitive and aware of the struggles that marginalized communities are facing.
Bonner: As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, "We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself." We have to take a sincere interest in what people are experiencing and take action, not just tell them it will be OK. We cannot afford to do as Jeremiah warned us, "They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,' they say, when there is no peace." We have to be willing to say the words, like #BlackLivesMatter, because they do. We need to accompany our words with actions, like visiting someone in a local immigration detention center and getting to know their story.
How can local churches reach diverse communities not currently connected to their church through social media?
Agtarap: I encourage local churches to stay local in the ways they connect with what's happening in their communities. Become a part of the fabric of your community. Follow and join local blogs, forums and Facebook groups. Let people know that you are there, you are present and you are active in the online and offline communities. Visit bit.ly/UMethniccaucuses or www.gcorr.org for resources.
Bonner: The first question we should ask is, "What will they gain from connecting with our church?" Is this about our desire to appear diverse, or our desire to support others? Will they be safe? Will they be treated as a token so that the church can pat itself on the back? Or will they be uplifted as children of God, their voices and experiences heard and believed and their needs supported? We have to work on all these fronts: who we are, who we want to be and who we need to be. When we get out of the church and into the streets, we will find all the clues we need to know. We will find out how to fix the language on our website. We will find the right hashtags to use. Yet, we have to get out of our pews and into the streets. Social media is a tool; it is not a replacement. Methodism was built in the streets, the factories, the fields, the schools – we must go there, too.
Share some examples of churches or individuals you know whose celebration of diversity and/or education about racial injustices are commendable. (All congregations Agtarap and Bonner named are United Methodist.)
Agtarap: Christena Cleveland (www.christenacleveland.com, www.facebook.com/drchristenacleveland) is one of my first go-tos for things related to social/racial justice. Urban Village (www.facebook.com/uvchurch) in Chicago is also a great resource. Glide Memorial (www.facebook.com/glidesf) from San Francisco is also an amazing example of celebrating diversity.
Shannon Hodson is editor of the Upper New York Advocate, a publication of the Upper New York Conference. This article originally appeared in Vol. 9, No. 1, January 2017.